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Harry Pristis

Saber-toothed Cats: Big Jaw, Wimpy Bite

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Harry Pristis

Saber-Toothed Cats: Big Jaw, Wimpy Bite

Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

Oct. 2, 2007 - Despite their 7-inch canines, sharp claws and strong limbs,

saber-toothed cats delivered a surprisingly wimpy bite, concludes a new


The cats, sometimes referred to as saber-toothed tigers, weighed around 450

pounds and were about the size of modern lions, but the study found a lion

today could win a theoretical biting match with its prehistoric foe,

Smilodon fatalis, which has been extinct for 10,000 years.

"Bite force driven by jaw muscles was relatively weak in S. fatalis,

one-third that of a lion of comparable size, and its skull was poorly

optimized to resist the extrinsic loadings generated by struggling prey,"

wrote the research team, which was led by Colin McHenry, a researcher in the

School of Engineering and the School of Environmental and Life Sciences at

the University of Newcastle.

The biting power of saber-toothed cats has been studied before, but McHenry

and his colleagues suggest their new paper, published in this week's

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides the most detailed

and accurate analysis.

The team combined computerized, 3-D reconstructions of the cat's jaw with

models that simulate its bite in action.

When put under various kinds of stress, the recreated canines, jaw, and neck

muscles showed varying degrees of weakness with color codes ranging from

blue (low stress) to red (near collapse). The higher the researchers cranked

up the load, the greater the pressure on the simulated skull, with most

stress hitting the cat's lower jaw and gigantic upper teeth.

In contrast, the computer-modeled lion skull mostly stayed cool blue.

The findings are at first puzzling, given that saber-tooths are known to

have caught and killed large animals, such as mammoths, bison and horses.

The researchers speculate the ancient cat, which first emerged around 3

million years ago, used "its massive size, robusticity and hypertrophied

(excessively developed) dew claws" to "bring down large animals without

biting until the prey was grounded." Once the cat had pinned down its

victim, the scientists then think it directed a "killing bite" to the neck.

As opposed to stabbing or slashing its victim, the saber-toothed cat likely

sheared the flesh, using the combined power of its jaw and neck muscles to

control its enormous teeth.

Lions, in contrast, asphyxiate their victims with often prolonged bites,

perhaps explaining why they evolved a stronger overall biting force.

Weak or strong, the prehistoric feline's bite, along with its taste for

meat - including that of ancient humans - may have led to its demise.

Anthropologist Robert Sussman of Washington University in St. Louis points

out evidence, including teeth marks on bones, talon marks on skulls and

holes in a fossil cranium, which indicate saber-toothed cats and other

mega-sized carnivores preyed on our early ancestors, such as the diminutive

Australopithecus afarensis, which stood around 3 to 5 feet tall and weighed

between 60 to 100 pounds.

In his book, Man the Hunted: Primates, Predators and Human Evolution,

Sussman explains that while some early humans were plant-eaters who avoided

the fierce cats "at all costs," they also became more clever and organized

at outwitting them.

When systematic hunting came into play for modern humans around 60,000 years

ago, saber-toothed cats could have been among our ancestor's earliest



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Very Interesting reading, thanks for posting :Cave Man:

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worthy 55

Cool stuff there Harry!!! :cool:



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If you are interested in the pre-historic cats then may I recommend

The Big Cats and their fossil relatives by Alan Turner Illustrations by Maruricio Anton

it is a very well done book and the illustrations are incredible and it has a color plate section

It uses the modern big cats and compares them to the fossil ones very interesting reading

it published by Columbia university press I picked mine up on Amazon about 2yrs ago


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